Showing posts with label happiness and meaning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label happiness and meaning. Show all posts

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Trust Is a Fragile Fabric

Of the many, many lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic, one that stands out to me is how important honest communication is. Honesty is a bedrock of trust. Trust is an essential quality for a thriving society.

While fear can enable a society to survive, it takes trust to allow it to flourish. Largely we are only surviving the most recent pandemic. There are many reasons for this from poor understanding and application of science to isolationist responses regarding testing and vaccination driven by nationalist pride (distrust!) to blatant failure to test to failure to properly quarantine to failure to experiment and on and on. Granted that many of these failures came about because we were starting from a poor state of trust, we did not do much to improve the arrangement. In fact we set it back meaningfully along the way.

Suppose we get another pandemic (we will, just wait). Suppose further that it is similar to COVID in terms of virulence and contagion. Perhaps it is dissimilar enough that we have a caught-off-guard type of reaction thus making it even more similar to COVID. But we do remember COVID, so we actually do have some improvements in societal and government response. For example, some communities, large business firms, perhaps the federal government wants to conduct wipe-spread, rapid testing. What might stand in the way of that policy being well received and complied with?

The people that would need to be getting tested would need strong assurance that a positive test would be met with reasonable consequences. What about our response to COVID would give them that assurance? Although people would definitely want to know if they were infected all else equal, pushing back against this desire would be multiple, reasonable concerns. Namely, that they would be subject to harsh treatment if positive (social stigma, rough or indefinite or otherwise undesirable detention, etc.) and perhaps more reasonably that they would be subject to involuntary quarantine, lockdown, social stigma, etc. even if they tested negative. 

Compounding this would be a distrust that they were getting the full story. Vaccination acceptance still suffers from the horrible Tuskegee Study crime. To a lesser degree dismissive elite responses to those with concerns about vaccination, as unfounded as those may be, also deters people from trusting authorities on vaccines. Being told masks are worthless and then that masks were essential sent a clear message--don't trust the authorities. This was one of many noble lies, a short-sighted concept that completely fails to ask the essential question: And then what?

The Chinese government lied to the world at the early stages of the pandemic. They have characteristically been very deceptive as the pandemic has unfolded including apparently not cooperating with the investigation of a lab leak cause. We should expect and demand better from our authorities. In the long run people respect the concept of 'we don't know' especially when coupled with transparent, honest, and updating 'here is what we are thinking'. The 'And then what?' from this approach is productive responsibility and fruitful experimentation. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Eulogy for my father-in-law

In loving memory of Robert Douglas:

The annual Fourth of July firework show in the backyard at my house was not the most extraordinary show you’ll ever see. It featured two kids: one of them my son and one of them my father-in-law. I always thought the basic goal was to try to set my backyard on fire and at the same time joyfully attempt to see who could be rushed to the emergency room first. Of course, it was really just two pals having a great time together like they always did.

Thank you for coming today to this celebration of the life of Robert Douglas. Today we remember a man who always showed us nothing but love. A man who made up for what he didn’t possess with the gift of being there for us in countless ways. A man who was Always Present.

Always there to be a friend to his kids and especially his grandkids, Tyler, Nicholas, Eva, Max, and Elise. He wanted nothing more than to experience life with them and to be their companion. In spirit he was truly just an overgrown kid in so many good ways. He had a big imagination, playfulness, and a love for toys. So many toys. Boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of toys. If you could think of a unique toy from history, and I mean any time in history, he had one of them. And if he had one of them, he actually had several of them. While some were in mint condition stored away waiting to one day be sold, in most cases they were not perfect. As Max liked to say, “all of papa’s stuff is just a little bit broken.” A pristine, brand-new toy right out of the box is ideal. But that is not reality. Reality is being able to play with the toy you have and use your imagination to fill in for that which is missing. Having the toy that is slightly broken is better than not having a toy at all. Being there matters. Present and imperfect is infinitely better than absent and completely gone. 

Robert was a wise man of few words. But when he spoke, it was meaningful. He had seen a lot of life. He was accomplished, well traveled, scholarly, and street smart. He was a collector of many treasures of an astonishing variety. He had an eye for quality and great instincts for trade—an arbitrageur and bargain hunter extraordinaire. Truly a renaissance man. 

He was a dreamer. His wondering, optimistic mind always hopeful for what might be next. It led him to many dead ends and dreams left unfulfilled. But it also took him on many adventures. Each one starting with little more than a hopeful destination and a willingness to try something new. Such is the life of a wandering writer, which he very literally was. He left behind many journals, poetry, screenplays, and an unfinished novel we hope to publish someday soon. 

As much as he wanted to take that trip around the world completing travels he had begun decades ago and as much as he wanted to do so many, many other things that he was not too proud to ponder aloud, economic reality constrained him. But another inertia kept him moored as well—loyalty to his children and a desire to always be a part of their lives. Always present. 

He was not ever in any way a complainer. His toleration of pain was matched with his toleration of the worst conditions. When he traveled with us on vacation, he happily would volunteer for the worst bed or couch to sleep on, the chore of babysitting at night after a long day on the beach, and any other sacrifice to make sure he was doing his part and never in the way. He had a strong desire to always be needed and helpful. This desire included small kindnesses like driving grandkids to practice and patiently keeping watch. It also included selfless acts of great generosity. When Eva’s father, Brian, was diagnosed with cancer, Robert immediately without hesitation volunteered to do anything April needed including moving to Chicago to be there directly and permanently to help. 

Robert wandered long to find a home. He served honorably in the United States Army. He worked for the U.S. Foreign Service as a translator and codebreaker. For many years he taught at various public and private schools. Entrepreneurially, he tried his hand at professional photography, one of his many skills, owning and operating a studio and engaging in many freelance projects with large clients. There were many other endeavors. All had their moments, but none were the right fit. Some combination of discontent or an itch for something new would send him along a new path.

At the age of 70 he finally found his place at All Saints Catholic School. For the first two years he taught grammar and English. This year finally and for the first time he was embarking on teaching literature, one of his many passions. He was greatly looking forward to it. This was one of his dreams coming true. 

I think he knew that he was in really bad shape this past week. He emailed April early last Friday morning saying that he was going to need help leaving school that day. Later in the emergency room she asked him why he hadn’t just asked her to come get him right away that morning. He said it was because he wanted to see all of his students before going away. We’re not sure if he meant to see them once more expecting to return after a while or one last time forever. 

The limits of life are hard. One papa only has so many chances to be with five grandchildren. Robert did the best job he could to give his time and his love to his kids and grandkids. I’d like to think that now he gets the endless pleasure of being able to be witness, to be silently present with all of his grandkids all of the time not having to make any sacrifices among them but being able to just watch them live life. He will forever be in our hearts and always present.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Life Is A Negative Lottery

Being awaken by a phone call in the night is almost certainly a bad news event. At the least it is a wrong number that has disturbed your sleep. Unless you are the rare individual up for a Noble Prize, there are many dreadful bad scenarios about to play out.*

This is indicative of life in general where bad news typically comes as quick, acute shocks and good news develops slowly. One could say that life is constantly forcing us to essentially write (i.e., sell) put options. While insurance sometimes is available to mitigate these risks, to more fully counteract this exposure we should be prudently buying call options. 

Briefly, a put option is an agreement whereby the owner has the right (not the obligation) to sell something at a predetermined price usually on or before a specified date. By writing or selling a put option one takes on the obligation to buy at the price the owner can sell at. Think of it this way: If you sell me a put option on a barrel of oil that expires in one month, I can exercise this right any time in the next month** to sell a barrel of oil to you at the agreed-to price (let's say $40)--making you buy it from me at $40. If I don't currently own a barrel of oil, I simply go on the open market, buy it at the current price, and then sell it to you at $40. The lower the price, the better it is for the owner (me in this scenario) and the worse it is for the writer (seller, you). 

A call option is just the opposite in terms of the obligation--it is the right to buy at a specified price whereby the writer (seller) has the obligation to sell at that price. Imagine having bought a one-year call option on 100 shares of Tesla stock a year ago at the then current market price. On July 22, 2019 TSLA was going for about $255/share. By July 17, 2020 it was priced at about $1,500/share. Suppose you bought this option (right to buy at $255) for a cost of $5,000, and consider that the value of the call option right now would be about $125,000. That's a great outcome for the option owner and an awful outcome for the option writer (seller). 

Here are some examples in life of put options where we are the unfortunate, forced writers (sellers) and potential call options where we can be the prudent buyers. 

  • Flat tire, car wreck, . . .
  • Stomach bug, a cancer diagnosis, . . .
  • House fire, termites, . . .
  • Tripping on the sidewalk, bumping one's head, . . . 
  • Tornado, flood, . . .
  • [this list could go on and on]...
  • Nurturing good relationships and broad networks
  • Maintaining a diversified investment portfolio added to regularly with constant market exposure--long-term compounding is the call option (outsized upside) aspect of this
  • Putting a small but meaningful amount of money invested in esoteric opportunities like Bitcoin, a creative person's far-out idea/business, . . .
  • Embracing a willingness to try new things and keep all options on the table (including the option to walk away)--for example, just a slight geographic expansion in one's willingness to relocate can have a large impact on their employment options
  • Learning diverse skills--good for career options, building networks, and knowing something that randomly comes in handy for the right time/right place
  • Not burning bridges; rather err on the side of putting oneself "out there"
  • Buying risk when others are risk averse and in increasing proportion to that aversion
  • Playing the lottery? Maybe, but...***
Find ways to disproportionately gain when things go well. Admittedly this is difficult as the opportunities are fleeting, rare, and easily outnumbered by fakes. Still, it is a very good way to improve one's holistic life portfolio. Perhaps the bottom line is when faced with two roads, take the one less traveled when the downside of each is close and the upside of the less traveled is high even if unlikely. 

*We don't even notify people of the Shazam Prize this way, or any way quite yet--coming soon.

**Technically this is an American option. A European option allows the transaction to only take place at the point of contract expiration. Effectively they are nearly identical in capital markets since one can always replicate the American option using a combination of European options or selling the European option to someone else.

***In most cases playing the lottery does not qualify under the prudent consideration--sometimes the expected value is actually positive, but the chances of a significant win are still mindbogglingly small. Still, $5 every once in a while (can you live up to that limit?) is a pleasurable escape from reality. My advice is simply to soak in the fantasy of what winning would be like considering also the downsides (change of lifestyle, lost friends, inability to trust many people, etc.). Perhaps to keep oneself in check, you should deliberately NOT play the lottery and accumulate those unspent funds in a separate account looking to its growth as a proud joy.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Wisdom of a Small Child

From about the time he was five years old, my son Max had four favorite sayings/shouted responses: 
He always has said them emphatically and authoritatively. And he doesn't back down. 

I have had this post in my notes for years (he will soon be 11). Although I am late in posting it, it remains true and relevant today. He has added to his repertoire
  • No, Dad, that's not how it works.
  • Look, just let me do it.
He has a point in each case that I really can't argue with. In fact, these are probably phrases we should all employ more often, if only with a bit less volume. Let me explain.

It doesn't matter - this is true for most everything. I don't mean so in an extreme philosophical sense of if you take a long enough perspective, it all fades into meaninglessness. But I do mean that a longer-run and bigger-picture perspective is the right approach. Most things in the here and now just don't matter too much. Go with the flow of life. If almost every problem is essentially small, the proper response is generally essentially modest. 

Quit rushing me - this relates to most things not mattering. What is the hurry? Rushing introduces added risk of error. How often are we neglecting this cost for some illusory goal of doing it faster? If it matters, it can wait. If it needs haste, speed will naturally follow. Perhaps we who realize a particular need for urgency need to inform others who are unaware or impress upon ourselves this demand, but the slip from alert to panic is a quick one. Almost nothing is actually on fire.

Quit wasting my time - time is our most precious asset. In a sense it is essentially the true unit of account. How much time a given action or inaction requires is a very underappreciated cost. And we only vaguely are aware of the value of our own time much less the value of someone else's. Our tolerance for wasting another's time or another wasting our own should be quite low. Our tolerance and appreciation for someone guarding preciously their own time should be quite high. Be polite, but don't let time be wasted.

Is that really necessary? - If it doesn't matter (usually to a large degree) and we shouldn't be rushed and we should not waste time, this question becomes imperative. So many times were these phrases shouted back to me as I struggled to get him to put his shoes on (among so many other similar trivialities). Getting the shoes on was necessary but . . . it kinda didn't matter, I didn't need to rush him, yelling at him do it rather than helping him wasted everyone's time, and none of that was really necessary.

No, Dad, that's not how it works & Look, just let me do it - I'm glad he is outspoken and very eager to try things for himself. He will make many, MANY mistakes in this journey. But I owe it to him to allow him this dignity. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

What is Holding You Back?

Partial list of things I would do if I had more time and/or more money.

Each should be viewed independently. The substitution among them would either imply even more time/money is needed or they simply would not be done any more than they are currently as they compete for room in my basket of things.

Of course, more money almost always can buy more time, but I've chosen to focus here on those things for which time and/or money is the essential scarce resource.

[edited to add] These are in no particular order--just listed as they came to me.

The Things I Would Do More But For...
More Time
More Money
Sports (attending)
Sports (participating)
Food (quality)
Podcast Listening
Podcast Creating
Investing (private equity and other assets with consumption value)
Clothing (quality more so than quantity)
Gaming (video and board)
Wander, Tinker, and Explore

*Look for a future post on philanthropy in which I chastise the field and narrowly define that which passes the "Shazam Test" (TBD). Include in this category advocacy.

Friday, November 1, 2019

On The Cusp

In my experience some of the greatest happiness is found on the cusp of new plateaus. 

These are pictures of my kids in the Lufthansa lounge of Houston International Airport from our vacation in the summer of 2018. We were on our way to New York City and Washington, D.C. This was their first time in an airport luxury lounge. 

I’m glad my kids don’t feel entitled to that treatment. And I am glad they aren’t so used to that luxury that they can’t find the enjoyment in it. They felt like they were, at least for that moment, “big time”. 

One way to help others feel loved and important is simply to find ways to give them the feeling of being "big time". I am thinking in particular people who are in a position to really appreciate it meaning it, whatever "it" may be, is out of the ordinary for them. 

It's hard to appreciate what we see every day. I want to do more to feel and appreciate the amazement of the world around me. I want to be amazed and I want to help other people be amazed. The downside of progress is that a world more beautiful than the one we just left eventually becomes banal. There is an ever-present tension between reaching new heights and the last ratchet up not being enough. Once luxury becomes ordinary, there is much less if any room for more excitement--the thrill is gone. One way to recapture the thrill is to increase the luxury. But I’m not sure that’s the best choice. 

The best choice from the moral or ethical consideration might rather be to bring that same luxury to someone else. Rather than try to capture the joy all to myself, I should find joy in seeing someone else experience the same first thrill that I had experienced. And of course this is more of a gift when it is not one's own kids who are receiving the new-found joys--this is just my example. This is the virtue and the selfish pleasure in sharing, and I’m sure I don't do enough of it. I am not entirely to blame because the world is not quite effectively set up to enable that sharing. There are too many institutions and norms and attitudes that serve as obstacles to the sharing I describe. 

A new goal for myself is to try to do more to increase my sharing. This is not limited to sharing stuff, although that is usually easiest, but it also includes experiences. Some of this will be charity, but a larger portion will just be finding ways to expand opportunities and extend courtesies. And make no mistake; this is all apart from the very important question of how to add meaning to peoples' lives. Generally I think the answer here is simply to get out of their way. Help them by not helping. Let them do as they want as long as it is peaceful. If there is something for you to do, discover it with them not for them. Trust and respect their decisions.